There is a point at the start of a painting when there is a precariousness between what the painting “is to be about” and the first touches of what is actually there. Something I’m only arriving at now is that the former, while of great interest and concern at the start, is of no account. It becomes – if we insist – an obstacle to the work’s development.
What if we let go of such concerns? What if instead of focusing on what it should be, or what we want, we simply allow the painting to occur?
You see, painting never happens as “thoughts” translated into “actions.” As much as we wish this were true. As much as all of our mythology of genius and heroes would make us insist things must happen this way, they don’t.
Painting happens as the hand and the brush and the eye – well, it gets so complex so soon, we might as well just say the organism and its enveloping surroundings; physical, mental, emotional – act. They simply act. There is, or might be – I suspect there always is, although it might not always be apparent – a seed of an intention. But even this cannot be said to be a “thought.” It is at most an urge, a leaning, a leaning towards some sort of decision, a decisive trending that is felt and that initiates the process. By process, I mean, getting up out of the chair, or away from one’s perch, or entering the studio itself with this kernel of decision inside one’s self. But once initiated, the “self,” the “thinker,” is no more than an observer, and best left where he cannot do any interfering with what is going on.
This is not some “free-spirit” “anything goes” condition. These are critical reactions, or naive interpretations, colored by the Ego’s jealousy at anything that might go on without his involvement. It is a clear and nuanced affair. There is nothing un-rigorous about it.
What happens next is that either the moment passes, or the intention’s course is run, or we “get in the way.” And, when this happens, most likely, we push on and attempt to turn what has happened into what we want.
The result of this is one of painting’s true wonders.
A wonder that is tied to the way it presents us with the unbending force of reality while doing so in a manner which is delicately open to our learning from these interactions. While “real life” can have fatal consequences, here, when we open ourselves to be sensitive to the range of its own consequences, painting is there to provide an arena for play, practice, and achievement.*
We may have an image of what we think we’ve achieved dancing before our eyes, but to someone else, or upon returning after this fever has cooled, we discover the resistance of the actual to our illusions.
* Achievement in this context is not success. It is a satisfactory engagement with what is. These range throughout all the potentialities held within meeting each moment as it comes throughout the full range of momentousness each moment may carry.
At this point we may either continue to insist that we can wrangle what we want into being, or we let go of insistence and begin to see what is actually there.
Act and repeat. Eventually – and this can be moments or years later – we discover what the painting is. First comes a recognition that it is something. That a scrap of canvas, and colored muds and oil, has come alive. It holds light within it. It shapes attention directed at it. It unfolds. It has a capacity to hold our attention in the way living things – which means everything actual – can.
There is no striving in it. There is no attempt to convince. There is no rhetoric. It is. It is sufficient. It is somehow miraculous. Miraculous because this scrap of material that has been manipulated has somehow left all striving behind and become “something.”
At this point, it doesn’t really matter what was “intended.” It doesn’t even matter what that some thing that it has become is. The fact that it has arrived at this condition, and that – by its act of being that something – it brings joy.